If you only read one thing today …

Read this interview with Jenova Chen (designer of Journey). Included in the interview is quite a convincing explanation of why people become griefers and what designers could do to minimise it in games, IF they wanted to.

 

“I am a competitor,” he says. “I play and love competitive games. You know, I was champion at a fighting game in high school. I was a StarCraft champion in college. I still play DOTA. I love to win. I love to win. When it comes to making games it’s not like I love peaceful games. I make this kind of game because I want to win as well. To me the measure of a human’s greatness is the value they can contribute to society. The game industry doesn’t need another shooter; it needs something to inspire them.”

 

There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player over the Internet, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. I believe that very often it’s not really the player that’s an asshole. It’s the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together… Our games make us assholes.

 

The thing is, everyone is seeking for maximum feedback. If you push someone in the pit then the feedback is huge: the other guy dies, there’s animation, sound, social tension and the opportunity to revive her. These things combine together make pushing another player into a pit much more satisfying than just pushing somebody into the wind.”

“I see,” I say.[…] “So what happened when you removed collision detection?”

“Players started looking for other ways to get more feedback. Helping each other yielded the most feedback so they began to do that instead. It was fascinating.”

If I had met you on some Journey …

One criticism that has been laid at thatgamecompany‘s Journey is that the game is quite short. I played through in about three hours, and any subsequent play throughs are unlikely to be longer. But they were three very good hours, three very immersed hours, and three quite emotional hours.

Usually when we talk about emotions and gaming, we’re talking about frustration, burn out, boredom at the grind, or the cackling joy of getting off a good headshot. Because, let’s be honest, the predominant emotion in multiplayer games is a mix of frustration (at yourself, at whoever you are playing against, at any incompetent allies) with occasional highs. Sometimes, almost by accident, a game will show good flow and you’ll get right into the groove for awhile … until another frustrating incident throws you out again.

Journey, by comparison, is a sculpted emotional experience which encompasses flow, restfulness, playfulness, focus, mild highs of achievement when you complete a level for the first time, spookiness, sadness, elation, and ends with a sense of peace. I defy anyone not to feel anxious when your little avatar is struggling uphill in the snow with the winds against it, or not to grin when you are sliding down sand dunes  just for the fun of it.

Every part of the game is a crafted piece of the experience, including the graphics, colour palette, animation, and lush orchestral score. The animation in particular is a joy, as you swish around in the sand, drift underwater, or trudge through the snow. The environment feels very real here, in a way that most MMOs never achieve. Journey is a very beautiful game, it’s aesthetically pleasing. The non-gender specific, non-culture specific main character is on a journey towards a light. That’s all you need to know. The rest you will find out on the way.

It isn’t really fair to categorise Journey as a platform game, although you will be jumping onto platforms. It isn’t really fair to categorise it as a puzzle game either, although there are puzzles to be solved. It’s an exploring game, through gorgeous desert, underwater, and snowy mountainous regions. It’s a magical game, where scraps of fabric hold strange powers. It’s a multiplayer game, where anonymous robed figures may silently appear to help you, play with you, or try to communicate via chimes. It’s a meditative aim where the soft colours and soothing string music accompany you on your explorations, and there is no timer, no competitive aspect, nothing to stop you taking your time. And it’s a story, an oddly personal story with no words, no characters — just the story of a journey.

With my gaming head on, I found Journey to be a bit on the easy side. I enjoyed the more puzzle-type levels and wouldn’t have minded more tricky or involved ones. But one of the design goals for the game is that provide good flow for  a wide variety of players, and that means that people who aren’t in the gaming headspace shouldn’t find it frustrating. So basically, it was never going to be a hard game in that sense.

The multiplayer aspect is done well also. You can only communicate with the robed stranger via chimes, but when you are close to each other, both characters get a buff to their jumping abilities. I don’t think it is possible to grief, but it is very easy to dance around each other, or co-operate. There is nothing to be frightened about with the other player in your gameI found that the stranger soon felt like a friend, a fellow  traveller, someone you might even want to help or protect. If they were chased by the scary snake thing, you wanted to help. 

And somehow it felt oddly appropriate that if you finished the game and sat through the credits all the way to the end, the last screen lists “Friends you met along the way” and finally adds a name to the robed stranger.

Journey is available on the PS3. Maybe £10 for 3 hours isn’t too cheap, but it’s what I’d pay for a film and I felt it was money well spent.  

[Links] Diablo III without PvP, ME3 Morality, Journey, LOTRO

Blizzard announced (if announced is the right word) last week that D3 will be shipping without PvP. While waiting till just before release to announce that ‘major’ game features are being dropped does smack of panic (better planning/ management would have involved making that announcement sooner), I don’t remotely see this as a bad thing.

Surely no one was planning on playing Diablo 3 because of the PvP. Were they? The whole point of that game genre is solo and group PvE. Yes, there were facilities in Diablo/ Diablo 2 to have a random punchfest but if you wanted a better PvP experience that involves loot gathering then just about any MMO would offer it. (Yes, that is a reflection on how poor Diablo PvP has been.)

So now Blizzard can get the game released sooner rather than later in a state which the VAST majority of players would have wanted, and then fix up PvP arenas later on. The great bonus though is that PvP does seem to attract the most colossal tossers (nothing personal to PvP fans, just the communities get toxic) so if any of those give D3 a pass then that’s hardly a bad thing either.

It probably will affect the auction house, though. PvP players wanting better gear for PvP without having to grind PvE for it would have been a significant market. Stabs analyses this briefly in his new D3 blog and concludes it’s not a big deal. And meanwhile, Blizzard are making the best of a non-ideal situation by being able to talk up how great the PvP will be when it does come in a later patch – arenas, achievements, matchmaking.

Meanwhile, Blizzard have a new offer for returning players to WoW which involves a free level 80 character, and also a server/ faction transfer thrown in. I have seen this touted as being a great deal, but that really depends on whether you wanted another level 80 and if you have characters scattered over servers and factions that you’d want reunited. Having said that, the Cataclysm levelling zones were quite fun if you haven’t seen them.

I think I am surprised at how popular this Scroll of Resurrection has been. Were there really that many people who hadn’t seen Cataclysm yet and really wanted to? Evidently so, or else people are using the scroll for their alt accounts (why you would need an alt account for WoW is beyond me, but whatever.)

Although let me be the first to say that the new mount that existing players who refer an old one using the SoR get looks extremely dumb when it is being ridden. Ghost fliers sound great until you realise your character will be flying around legs akimbo looking like a tit. Flaming hippogryph forever!

More links

Boatorious has issues with the ME3 morality meter. Should a hardened soldier still feel bad when s/he kills people? I would say yes, it’s basic humanity to feel bad about killing, but then I’m not Commander Shepard. Bioware’s morality choices do tend to highlight when the writer’s values conflict with the players’.

Syl blogs about Journey, the upcoming (as in ‘this week’) PS3 release from thatgamecompany. I have been jonesing to play this game since I saw it last year at conventions, so will hopefully be talking about that later this week. It was a ravishingly peaceful and beautiful demo, what can I say?

Milady watched the recent Big Bang Theory episode that features SWTOR and wants to know why female gamers are portrayed as spoiling the experience for the guys.

Turbine does seem to be dancing with the boundaries of acceptable F2P content at the moment. Player vs Developer looks at a recent feature which fixes an existing design issue … for those who are willing to pay.

If you haven’t read this yet, Apple Cider Mage posts a brave account of her experiences of being harassed in and out of WoW, and also a guide on how to deal with internet harassment.

Gevlon has unleashed himself on EVE and is posting his thoughts and tips as he learns the game. Comments on those posts by EVE vets are incredibly harsh given that he’s a new player and is picking things up quickly. (Maybe it’s his manner, but they come across as utterly despising of newbies.)

Speaking of EVE, this is a piece that The Mittani wrote comparing communities that form in game with communities that form out of game. I think I will follow this up in a later post, but it’s very much a feature of new MMOs these days that many players will be members of existing communities that met outside the game and then formed guilds to play with. It does affect the play experience, since those players have no need to form social links in game. But to more social players, forming links in game and making new friends is part of the fun of playing MMOs…

Eurogamer Expo: What caught my eye, and it’s going to be a Star Wars (TOR) Xmas …

journey-game-screenshot-19You are going on a journey…

The Eurogamer Expo was held from Thursday-Sunday last week, taking over a larger venue than last year. I’d say that it was an improved experience all round, so props to the organisers.

As Danie says, computer gaming expos are very different in tone from gaming/ sci-fi conventions. You walk into a huge darkened hall, there are posters hanging from the ceiling, and the main source of light is the flickering of hundreds (thousands?) of screens running demos. It all feels very Bladerunner.

You wander around, decide which games you want to queue for and which you’re content to watch over someone else’s shoulder, keep an eye on twitter for when any giveaways are announced, and go off to explore. It’s not an ideal environment to meet people socially, so I do apologise to anyone else who was there who I failed to meet.

The games which I found most eye catching were the ones which immediately feel more different to the standard RPGs/shooters. Journey in particular had me and my partner absolutely mesmerised – and that was just watching other people play it. It’s a sort of platform game which has the look of a Studio Ghibli film.

We decided not to queue for Skyrim, GW2, SWTOR, Arkham City or Dark Souls; I’m not big on standing around for ages just to play a demo. My beloved did win a tshirt (for me :) ) in a giveaway by knowing that Catwoman used to be a hooker though – I knew there was a reason I married him!

The Indie Arcade was also a huge amount of fun. I didn’t have time to try all of the games, but This Robotic Heart of Mine and Molecat Twist were both very engaging puzzle games of the type when you look up and blink and wonder where two hours went.  (The molecats are also adorable and they should make cuddly ones!) Rimelands: Hammer of Thor was also a fun little turn based roguelike which actually shows the dice rolls when you are in combat.

All recommended: I’m sure the others were good also but didn’t get a chance to play them.

The other big news of the convention was that Bioware announced the release dates for SWTOR: 20th Dec in the US, 22nd Dec in the EU. More on that tomorrow.